Review / Orbital (iPhone)

BitForge is not well known for its stunning innovations in iPhone apps. The company’s previous submissions to the App Store, Bob the Belcher and Fart Machine – The Original, are sought after by a very small portion of consumers, with both being released this past January and gathering fewer than 20 combined ratings. So when we were approached to review their upcoming release, Orbital, our expectations were not set at the highest of levels.

Upon first launching, the obligatory BitForge logo splashes across the screen, then gives way to the world of Orbital, with its name floating within a star field and announced by a slightly creepy robot voice, a voice that is an occasional visitor . The tiny words, ‘Touch Screen,’ beckoning us at the bottom while the game’s rhythmic trance music lightly emitting from the speaker. We could spend hours at the title screen alone, just listening to the theme music – until the iPhone goes into sleep mode and brings us back to the real world.

Touching the screen brings up the game menu with selection tabs at the bottom and the single player game launching menu selected by default. Here we are given the choice of playing either of Orbital’s two game modes, Pure or Gravity. Pure mode is just that, the pure version of the game where the orbs travel in a straight line, while Gravity mode gives a gravity field to each orb. The strength of the gravity is dependent on the size of the orb and is visually illustrated by deformations in the wire mesh that subtly overlays the star field in the background. The addictive gameplay is drastically changed by this simple addition of a gravity field, as orbs that normally would not make it past the larger of its brethren gently curve around and settle gently.

Basic gameplay is simple yet challenging, wherein a rotating turret at the bottom of the screen swivels side-to-side in anticipation of our command. At a touch of the screen, the turret shoots an orb that trails beautiful particle effects into the blank game space, bouncing off walls, other orbs, or anything else that might get in the way until running out of energy. Once stopped, the orb expands until it touches an obstacle and takes on the number three, denoting how many times it must be hit by another orb until it is destroyed. The game continues in this fashion, giving a point for each orb destroyed, until an orb crosses the deathline situated directly above the turret, or until we quit. One of the more pleasant surprises was seeing evidence of the developer’s sense of humor, such as when one of our orbs almost crossed the deathline and the robot voice taunted us with a well timed ‘That was close’ and as our first shot ricocheted back across the deathline, a robotic ‘Oops’ mocked our efforts.

The next tab is the multiplayer menu where, again, we can play either the Pure or Gravity game modes, but this time against someone else locally. The multiplayer mode is the exact same as the single-player, but the number of orbs popped does not factor into the win/loss column. This time it is all about domination of your opponent and trying to block them in, leaving them with no shot past their deathline. The nice part about the head-to-head multiplayer in Orbital is that we can choose to have the game screen scroll up and down, leaving the iPhone in one position for true “head-to-head” action, or being able to have someone sit beside us and the game rotate the screen for that option as well. Additionally, we can choose to play the best of one, three, or five games to determine the ultimate Orbital champion.

There is no online multiplayer available, but the game does have access to online leaderboards and allows us to connect to our Facebook accounts for the ultimate in bragging rights. Both single-player game modes have leaderboards broken down into an ‘All-Time’ category and a listing of the highest scores in the past 24 hours and we can see the top five players worldwide, plus our ranking if we were not in the top five, and how we compare against our friends on Facebook. Choosing to connect to Facebook is as simple as logging in through the game, so no dropping to other apps here. Once the connection is established, we were given the choice to use our Facebook name or to create a nickname, which we did. To our dismay, the nickname creation did not allow for both uppercase and lowercase letters, so we could not get fancy with our name.

All in all, our fears of getting into something that emits some sort of bodily function sound were totally misplaced. BitForge has managed to combine the addictive gameplay of Peggle and the beauty of Geometry Wars, two digital forms of crack, into one easy to use package. Orbital is easy to pick up and play in bite sized chunks, perfect for that commute, waiting room, or anytime things get boring.

Orbital will be available in about two weeks through the iTunes App Store for just $2.99 and we cannot think of a better way to spend three bucks.

+ Beautiful graphics
+ Addictive gameplay
+ Bite sized gaming

– No online multiplayer
– No lowercase letters allowed in naming
– Creepy robot voice scares us